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Dorothy Bliss papers

Identifier: Mss .B55

Scope and Contents

In the case of this collection, Scope and Content are virtually synonymous. Both words encompass Dr. Bliss's single-minded, detailed study of crustaceans in general and the land crab gecarcinus lateralis in particular. There is nothing in these papers that refers to her teaching positions or the other outside interests cited in the biographical sketch. It must be assumed that she was always careful to compartmentalize her various activities.

The scope of the material starts in 1950 with the research into gecarcinus lateralis that became her Ph.D. dissertation: “Endocrine Control of Metabolism in the Decapod Crustacean, Gecarcinus lateralis.” It ends in 1979, her last year at the Museum, with the article, written with three co-authors: “Limb Growth-controlling Factor in the Crab Gecarcinus lateralis with Special Reference to the Growth-inhibiting Factor.”

The content of these papers is composed of a list of her articles, correspondence with individuals and organizations, and masses of meticulously drawn graphs, charts and diagrams as well as voluminous statistics, recorded on file cards and in notebooks.

One letter in this collection stands out. It is from P.F. Wright, the son/daughter of Sir Charles S. Wright, who was with Robert Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition. He was in the depot-laying party that Scott sent back before his fatal run to the Pole. In May, 1978, P.F. Wright wrote the Museum a letter which landed on Dr. Bliss's desk, asking for help in identifying land crabs which the father recorded seeing off the coast of Brazil. The letter and Dr. Bliss's reply are in Box 8, folder 22.

The collection is arranged into six series as follows:

Series I: Articles in professional publications and articles not published

Series II: Ph.D. Dissertation and Books

Series III: Correspondence: Individuals

Series IV: Organizations

Series V: Research notebooks

Series VI: Research papers and data


  • 1950-1979


Language of Materials



Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.

Historical Note

Dorothy Elizabeth Bliss was 40 years old when she came to the Museum, in 1956, as assistant curator of invertebrates in what was then the Department of Fishes and Aquatic Biology. Twenty-four years later, a newly-made curator emerita, she could look back on a long list of accomplishments in the study of the terrestrial adaptation of crustaceans and crustacean neuroendocrinology. Her research, supported throughout her Museum career by the National Science Foundation, explored growth, locomotion, water balance and hormones in land crabs. She was editor-in-chief of the 10-volume The Biology of Crustacea, president, in 1978, of the American Society of Zoologists, and a member of the Corporation of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, Inc.

Dr. Bliss was born in Cranston, R.I. In 1916. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Brown University, from which he would later receive an honorary degree. In 1952 she earned her Ph.D. at Harvard. At the time of her appointment to the Museum, she was a teaching fellow at Harvard, working there on what would be a lifetime study of gecarcinus lateralis, a land crab species she first encountered as a graduate student and which was the subject of her doctoral dissertation. Dr. Bliss brought this work with her to the Museum and by 1968 she had risen to the post of curator of invertebrates. Her work was interrupted in 1974 when she was persuaded to take on the duties of a department chairman, and in the three years she held this position she supervised the merger of two related small departments into the Department of Invertebrates, today known as the Division of Invertebrates.

In addition to her work at the Museum, Dr. Bliss was on the anatomy faculty at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1956 to 1964 and was an adjunct professor of zoology at the City University of New York from 1971 to 1980 . Departing the Museum in 1979, she returned to her home state, where she became adjunct professor of zoology at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Bliss died of cancer in a Providence hospital on December 26, 1987.

Writing of Dr. Bliss after her death, the biologist Linda Mantel noted that as a museum curator, she influenced uncounted younger researchers working on crustaceans, also that she was responsible for major exhibits in the Hall of Invertebrates. Dr. Mantel notes, too, that while Dr. Bliss was an avid reader, sailor, woodworker, gardener, photographer and scientific artist, she found time not only to breed and train prize-winning golden retrievers, but to respond patiently to people who called the Museum to report that they “found something with a lot of legs on the beach.”

sources for biographical sketch:

AMNH news releases, July 15, 1956 and undated.

Rockland-Journal News, Nyack, N.Y. August 4,1974

Linda Mantel in Journal of Crustacean Biology, 8(4), 706-709), 1988

Letter to Raymond B. Manning, Smithsonian Institution, August 3, 1979

New York Times obituary, January 2, 1988

Sidney Horenstein, seen in the AMNH library


33 Linear Feet

Arrangement Note

The articles in Box 1 are not necessarily DEB's entire output. They are only the ones that were with the collection.

These papers had been gone over before and it is not known how extensive they might have been. Envelopes were not kept, so some mail have no dates.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transfer; AMNH Dept. of Invertebrates; 1979. One folder of material: Transfer; AMNH Dept. of Public Affairs; 1993.

Separated Material

Two boxes of photographs, filed as PPC.B55

Collection of 35mm slides have been removed and can be found in PSC 676.

Physical Description

There are 21 boxes of varying size. Boxes 1-10 and 17 have written material, i.e. Bliss's books, articles, correspondence and research papers. Boxes 11 to 16 contain notebooks. Box 18, the largest, contains 50 rolls from a machine that works like a seismograph. Boxes 19-20, contain two sets of 3x5-inch file cards. Box 21 has three metal boxes of slides taken from a microscope. Boxes 22-33 contain the summary of work recorded in 12 boxes of 5x7-inch file cards.

Dorothy Bliss papers, 1950-1979
Eleanor Schwartz, May 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017).

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420